‘Future Falcons’ scholarship offers Saudi football talent pathway to professional careers in Europe

 ‘Future Falcons’ scholarship offers Saudi football talent pathway to professional careers in Europe
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The Future Falcons program aims to provide Saudi talent a pathway to professional football in Europe. (SSDFT)
 ‘Future Falcons’ scholarship offers Saudi football talent pathway to professional careers in Europe
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The Future Falcons program aims to provide Saudi talent a pathway to professional football in Europe. (SSDFT)
 ‘Future Falcons’ scholarship offers Saudi football talent pathway to professional careers in Europe
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The Future Falcons program aims to provide Saudi talent a pathway to professional football in Europe. (SSDFT)
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Updated 04 November 2023
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‘Future Falcons’ scholarship offers Saudi football talent pathway to professional careers in Europe

 ‘Future Falcons’ scholarship offers Saudi football talent pathway to professional careers in Europe
  • Launched in 2019, the Saudi Ministry of Sports initiative operates in the Spanish city of Salou
  • The program is aimed at Saudi footballers aged 18 and above

BARCELONA: In 2019, the Saudi Scholarship for Developing Football Talent was launched by the Ministry of Sports with the aim of providing young players from the Kingdom with a pathway to play the game at professional level at home and in Europe.

The program, “Future Falcons,” is targeted at Saudi youth aged 18 and above, and has since grown to include a base in the city of Salou, near Barcelona, Spain.

Those that qualify for the initiative get the opportunity to live in Spain under the supervision of international coaches as they train and compete in matches against European clubs.

Arab News visited the program’s base as the Future Falcons faced Dinamo Zagreb, with the Croatian youngsters eventually running out 2-1 winners.

Ghassan Felemban, general director of the program, explained how the initiative has evolved in the past few years.  

“In the third year, what we did was we actually started to provide Saudi players to (other clubs in) Europe,” he said. “One of the requirements for other clubs to join this tournament is to bring their scouts and to follow our matches, and then they have to provide trials for our players.

“I do believe that Saudi players have a lot of talent, the only thing they need is the opportunity, so this program is to give them the opportunity to prove themselves.”

In the past four years, the Future Falcon program has successfully signed 37 contracts with European clubs for its graduates.

“Eleven of them are active now,” Felemban said. “For example, Abdumalik Al-Jabel, he is now playing in the Bosnian championship as a starting player.

“At the same time we have Rayan Hamza Idris, he was playing in OFI Crete and now he is on a loan to a different team,” he said. “Mohammad Al-Rashidi is playing with PAOK in Greece.”

The program has ambitious goals to produce the next generation of professional Saudi football players, and Romeo Jozak has been appointed technical director to execute this mission.

The Croatian coach has an impressive resume, including coaching the Kuwaiti national football team, prior to him joining Future Falcons.

Jozak’s approach with the young players is to implement his own philosophy, which he developed over the years.

“Our philosophy is fulfilling the dreams,” he said. “Each one of them wants to be the young footballer, and it’s not easy to make it nowadays. There is a huge competition, coming to Europe, for example to Spain, where we are at. It’s the middle of the football world, let’s put it this way.”

Jozak calls the program a “space shuttle,” which will have a positive impact on the football world.

“I think it’s worth that the whole world knows about it, about what the Saudi Arabia government is investing and doing to help the younger players,” he told Arab News.

“Believe me, one day, after a couple of years, people are going to speak about the program because then they will see its effects.”

The program has been carefully tailored to include a daily training schedule where the players learn football skills, ethical discipline, healthy nutrition and the experience of living in a different environment. It also includes general studies such as English language and university courses, should a player wish to continue their academic education.

“The adaptation and professionalism is something that you feel responsible for,” Jozak said. “You are representing Saudi Arabia here (in Spain).”


Disappointment for Saudi team in first match of ACC Men’s Premier Cup

Disappointment for Saudi team in first match of ACC Men’s Premier Cup
Updated 32 min 8 sec ago
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Disappointment for Saudi team in first match of ACC Men’s Premier Cup

Disappointment for Saudi team in first match of ACC Men’s Premier Cup
  • Saudi Arabia now play Hong Kong in a must win match on day three

AL-AMARAT: On April 12, the men’s Asia Premier Cup got away to a flying start on Oman’s two side by side turf grounds at Al Amerat, Muscat.

This excellent facility provides the opportunity for two matches to be played on each turf per day. The press tent is situated between the two grounds so that both matches can be observed simultaneously.

Prospects of upsets were high. In Group A, Oman, one of the favourites to earn the top place and progress to the Asia Cup in 2025, were run close by Bahrain, who fell four runs short of victory. Oman had been given a scare and an upset avoided.

Another contender for top spot, the UAE, was subject to a steady top order batting display by Kuwait, who posted 178 for eight.

At 26 for three, the UAE innings was on the back foot, but an unbroken fourth wicket partnership of 153 avoided another potential upset.

Nepal twanged the heartstrings of their supporters against Malaysia, who posted a creditable 143 for three.

Captain, Virandeep Singh, anchored the innings with an unbeaten seventy-two, supported by S Muniandy, Nepal using eight bowlers.

Nepal made heavy weather of its reply, wickets falling at critical times, before a sixth wicket partnership of thirty runs sent their delirious supporters into raptures. No other team in this tournament has this boisterous, enthusiastic support.

There seemed to a hundred or so, all working in Oman, making a noise far beyond their numbers. Crucially for them, another potential upset had been avoided.

In their performance, Malaysia had given a warning that they represented a strong challenge for Saudi Arabia on Day 2. Choosing to bat first, Malaysia lost Virandeep Singh in the first over, bowled by Ishtiaq Ahmad. Tight bowling by Saudi’s quicks reduced Malaysia to fifty-three for five after ten overs. Several smart catches were taken but there was some ragged fielding.

At this critical juncture in the innings, Saudi needed to turn the screw. However, the left-handed A. A. Wahid rebuilt the innings, with help from V Unni and late flurry of scoring in the last two lovers took Malayasia to 146 for seven. This target looked achievable on a good batting pitch.

Saudi’s start was steady, but the introduction of spin at both ends stifled the scoring. In the sixth over, Saudi attacked but then lost two wickets in the seventh over, the score forty-seven for three. Then came drama. First came the dismissal of the captain, H Shaikh, was adjudged to be stumped and K Abbas caught behind in the same over, the batter being unimpressed to be out.

At 91 for five in the fifteenth over, the game was in the balance. A profitable over of twelve runs then ensued off a left arm quick. The return of slower bowlers brough extra pressure and, despite several lusty blows, the lower order all gave straightforward catches in their attempts to find the boundary. As a result, the innings closed twelve runs short on 134 all out, with five balls spare.

It is a match that Saudi will be disappointed to lose. At 53 for five, the Malaysian innings was in deep trouble, but they managed to wriggle free and then post a competitive score. The Saudi batters had difficulty in scoring sufficiently against the slower bowlers. Even so, to finish twelve runs short with five balls remaining suggests that some improved game management will be beneficial. Overall, the Malaysian team probably fielded better. The margins are so tight in T20 cricket that fielding often makes the difference.

In the other matches of day two, Kuwait made light of Cambodia’s 141 for five, reaching the target in the twelve over for the loss of only two wickets. The UAE totalled an imposing 236 for six against Bahrain, who responded in positive fashion particularly by Ali Butt and I Anwar with some superlative straight hitting. Ultimately, they perished and the team fell short by thirty-seven runs.

However, the real fireworks of the day were provided by Nepal who scored 210 for seven. Before the last over they had scored 174 for seven. Dipendra Singh Airee then smashed six sixes to place himself as only the third player to do that in T20I cricket. The others were Yuvraj Singh in 2007 and Kieron Pollard in 2021. Qatar replied with a spirited 178 for nine and will wonder how much closer they might had been, but for Airee’s blitz.

At the end of day two, the UAE and Nepal lead their respective groups, each with two wins from two matches. Saudi Arabia play Hong Kong in a must win match on Day three.


Fernandes double not enough for Man Utd win at Bournemouth

Fernandes double not enough for Man Utd win at Bournemouth
Updated 13 April 2024
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Fernandes double not enough for Man Utd win at Bournemouth

Fernandes double not enough for Man Utd win at Bournemouth
  • A point leaves United still 10 adrift of Aston Villa and Tottenham in the race for a top-four finish with six games to go
  • The Red Devils have now won just once in their last seven Premier League games to leave Erik ten Hag’s future as United boss next season in doubt

BOURNEMOUTH, United Kingdom: Manchester United’s chances of Champions League football next season took another battering as Bruno Fernandes’ double could only salvage a 2-2 draw at Bournemouth on Saturday.
Twice the Cherries led through Dominic Solanke and Justin Kluivert and Bournemouth were denied the opportunity to win the game at the death after a controversial VAR review overturned the decision to award the home side a penalty.
A point leaves United still 10 adrift of Aston Villa and Tottenham in the race for a top-four finish with six games to go.
The Red Devils have now won just once in their last seven Premier League games to leave Erik ten Hag’s future as United boss next season in doubt.
Once again it was United’s defensive deficiencies that were exploited as Bournemouth just missed out on a famous double after winning 3-0 at Old Trafford earlier in the season.
French teenager Willy Kambwala kept his place at center-back with Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez and Victor Lindelof among those absent due to injury.
But Kambwala had a moment to forget for the opening goal as his slip allowed Solanke to pick his spot and fire home his 19th goal of the season.
United had barely threatened as an attacking force before they levelled against the run of play on 31 minutes.
Alejandro Garnacho’s deflected cross fell perfectly into the path of Fernandes to volley into the roof of the net.
Bournemouth were back in front within five minutes as this time Kluivert took advantage of the acres of space offered by the United defense inside the box to drill low past Andre Onana.
Ten Hag’s future as United boss becomes more unsure with every passing week and poor performance.
However, the Dutchman was rewarded for a daring change at half-time as he replaced Garnacho with Amad Diallo.
The Ivorian winger shot to fame with an extra-time winner against Liverpool in a thrilling FA Cup quarter-final last month.
And he helped earn the visitors a point as his deflected shot was handled by Adam Smith inside the area.
Fernandes stepped up to slot the resulting penalty past Neto.
Bournemouth thought they had a spot-kick of their own deep into stoppage time when Kambwala blocked Ryan Christie’s charge into the box.
After a penalty was initially awarded, VAR intervened to say the foul had taken place just outside the box.
A point leaves Bournemouth still in 12th, eight points adrift of United in the European places.


Shimron Hetmyer seals IPL thriller for Rajasthan Royals over Punjab Kings

Shimron Hetmyer seals IPL thriller for Rajasthan Royals over Punjab Kings
Updated 13 April 2024
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Shimron Hetmyer seals IPL thriller for Rajasthan Royals over Punjab Kings

Shimron Hetmyer seals IPL thriller for Rajasthan Royals over Punjab Kings
  • Royals cemented top spot in the IPL table with third straight win

CHANDIGARH: Shimron Hetmyer provided the finishing touches to Rajasthan Royals’ last-over win against Punjab Kings in an Indian Premier League thriller on Saturday.
Punjab needed 10 runs from the last over, and Hetmyer (27 not out off 10 balls) held his nerve against death-bowling specialist Arshdeep Singh. After two dot deliveries, Hetmyer hit 6-2-6 to help Rajasthan cross the finish line with a ball left.
Rajasthan finished with 152-7 in reply to Punjab’s 147-8.
The Royals cemented top spot in the league with a third straight win, while the slumping Kings were handed a fourth loss in six games.
Put in to bat, Punjab missed Shikhar Dhawan and English allrounder Sam Curran stepped in as skipper.
The hosts were pegged back regularly by losing wickets.
Rajasthan’s spinners squeezed the scoring rate. Yuzvendra Chahal took 1-31 in four overs and Keshav Maharaj picked 2-23. Maharaj dismissed Jonny Bairstow (15) and Curran (6) and helped to reduce Punjab to 52-4 in 9.3 overs.
Jitesh Sharma anchored Punjab with 29 off 24 balls, including two sixes, but it was impact player Ashutosh Sharma who gave Punjab 147 to defend by scoring 31 off 16 until he was dismissed by Trent Boult (1-22) off the final ball.
Tanush Kotian replaced Rajasthan opener Jos Buttler and combined for 56 runs with Yashasvi Jaiswal. Jaiswal, in a slump, scored 39 off 28 balls with four fours.
As opposed to Rajasthan’s spin, Punjab’s pace did the heavy lifting and got the vital breakthroughs. Kagiso Ramada dismissed Jaiswal, and in-form skipper Sanju Samson for 18.
Liam Livingstone bowled Kotian as Rajasthan’s chase was struggling at 89-3 in the 14th over.
At 115-5, Hetmyer and fellow West Indian batter Rovman Powell took charge. Powell 11-off-five cameo gave Rajasthan the impetus that Hetmyer used to finish with a flourish of three sixes.


Ruud finally beats Djokovic and Tsitsipas downs Sinner to set up Monte Carlo Masters final

Ruud finally beats Djokovic and Tsitsipas downs Sinner to set up Monte Carlo Masters final
Updated 13 April 2024
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Ruud finally beats Djokovic and Tsitsipas downs Sinner to set up Monte Carlo Masters final

Ruud finally beats Djokovic and Tsitsipas downs Sinner to set up Monte Carlo Masters final
  • Djokovic double-faulted on match point in his first career defeat in six matches against Ruud
  • Ruud and the 12th-seeded Tsitsipas are chasing their first titles of the year and 11th overall

MONACO: Casper Ruud finally got the better of Novak Djokovic, beating the top-ranked Serb 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 on Saturday to set up a Monte Carlo Masters final against two-time champion Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Tsitsipas won the earlier semifinal against a tiring Jannik Sinner 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to hand the Australian Open champion only his second defeat of the season.
Djokovic double-faulted on match point in his first career defeat in six matches against Ruud. He had never even taken a set off Djokovic before, including at last year’s French Open final.
Djokovic trailed 4-1 in the deciding set but held his next serve and broke a nervous-looking Ruud’s serve to love to pull back to 4-3.
At 15-15 in the eighth game, Djokovic turned and shouted an expletive toward someone in the crowd. Chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani urged fans not to call out during a rally, but did not issue a verbal warning to Djokovic despite the loudly audible expletive, which was followed by an angry glare.
A sloppy 10th game in the deciding set saw him trailing love-40 on serve, and the eighth-seeded Ruud received the victory on his third match point.
Ruud and the 12th-seeded Tsitsipas are chasing their first titles of the year and 11th overall.
The record 24-time men’s Grand Slam champion Djokovic still hasn’t won a title this year, and remained on 98 in his glittering career.
Sinner, who has three titles in 2024, looked in control in the deciding set when he led Tsitsipas 4-3 with a service game to follow.
But he called for a medical timeout during the changeover and a trainer massaged his right knee and thigh. Although a smiling Sinner shared a joke with the trainer, things got more serious in the next game when Tsitsipas broke his serve at the fifth attempt to level the score.
Sinner limped a little at the end of the next game and clutched the hamstring area of his left leg, then had both legs massaged. His movement was restricted in the ensuing game, and Tsitsipas clinched victory on his first match point when Sinner’s backhand from the back of the court went long as he struggled for balance.
“He is one of the toughest opponents I have faced so far and to find ways when there weren’t that many, I am proud of that,” Tsitsipas said.
American actress Zendaya, British actor Josh O’Connor and other cast members from the tennis movie “Challengers” were among the crowd enjoying the sunshine at Monte Carlo Country Club. Italian fans crossing the nearby border made Sinner feel at home, but Tsitsipas enjoys strong support here after winning in 2021 and 2022.
Tsitsipas broke Sinner and held for 3-1 in a commanding first set where he used angles well to disrupt Sinner’s more rhythmical play.
The level of intensity from both players increased in the second set. A long ninth game lasting 13 minutes saw the second-seeded Sinner save five break points before holding to level the match.
He broke Tsitsipas in the first game of the deciding set and held easily.
At this point, another final looked increasingly certain.
The Italian was enjoying himself and smiled to his coaching team after winning one point with an audacious sliced dropshot in the fifth game.
But Tsitsipas, who took Djokovic to five sets in the French Open final in 2021, showed trademark endurance and clawed his way back as Sinner started fading.


Haaland scores as Man City rout Luton 5-1 to go top of the Premier League

Haaland scores as Man City rout Luton 5-1 to go top of the Premier League
Updated 13 April 2024
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Haaland scores as Man City rout Luton 5-1 to go top of the Premier League

Haaland scores as Man City rout Luton 5-1 to go top of the Premier League
  • Arsenal host Aston Villa on Sunday, when Liverpool take on Crystal Palace
  • With City still in contention for a second straight treble of major trophies, manager Pep Guardiola took the opportunity to rotate his squad

MANCHESTER, England: Manchester City kept up the pressure on Arsenal and Liverpool with an emphatic 5-1 victory over relegation-threatened Luton on Saturday that put the defending champion back atop the English Premier League.
An early own goal from Daiki Hashioka gave City the lead at Etihad Stadium before a fierce shot by Mateo Kovacic and a penalty by Erling Haaland put the game beyond doubt after the break.
Luton earned a consolation goal through Ross Barkley in the 81st but Jeremy Doku and Josko Gvardiol added late goals to wrap up the win, which lifted City two points above Arsenal and Liverpool.
Arsenal host Aston Villa on Sunday, when Liverpool take on Crystal Palace.
With City still in contention for a second straight treble of major trophies, manager Pep Guardiola took the opportunity to rotate his squad and left key midfielder Rodri on the bench after the Spaniard said publicly he needed a rest.
Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, Bernardo Silva and John Stones also were rested ahead of Real Madrid’s visit on Wednesday in the return leg of their Champions League quarterfinal. But goalkeeper Ederson returned to replace Stefan Ortega and Kevin De Bruyne was back after an illness.
It was a bit of luck, though, that gave City the opener inside two minutes.
Haaland attempted an acrobatic volley after his initial shot was saved, but the ball was heading well wide until it took a huge deflection off Hashioka’s head and ended up in the net.
But Luton defended with great determination and the second goal didn’t come until just after the hour when Kovavic unleashed an unstoppable effort from the edge of the area following a corner.
Doku then won a penalty after being brought down in the area and Haaland calmly sent Thomas Kaminski the wrong way to register his 31st goal of the season in all competitions, but only his second in six games.
Barkley robbed Nunes to pull one back but City finished with a flourish.
Doku claimed the fourth after weaving through the area in the 87th and Gvardiol followed up his fine strike against Madrid with another stunner in stoppage time.